Fight or Flight

Karyna Nikashyna (+Video)


This is the story of Karyna, a Ukrainian woman who leaves behind everything she had and escapes the war with only one pair of shoes and a suitcase. After hearing her story, you might ask yourself one question: “Do I really appreciate what I have?”


Sitting on my balcony in Windsor, Ontario, I’m looking at the beautiful maple trees of Jackson Park. Light wind blows through my toes, making me chilly. This wind takes me back to being eight years old, running barefoot through the chamomile field. I miss those fields. The fields of my Ukraine, glorious, peaceful and gorgeous. The fields that don’t bloom anymore. I could not run barefoot through those fields today.

On February 24, 2022, at 5:00 in the morning, I was awakened by the sound of a bomb that fell nearby. A cold wind blew through the windows that had been blown out. My boyfriend ran into the room. Instead of “good morning”, he simply said, “The war has begun.” I wouldn’t wish that feeling on my worst enemy.

I put on my sneakers and went outside. I stood in front of the neighbour’s destroyed building and I felt my knees shaking. I was petrified. I saw tiny baby shoes lying next to a piece of a rocket—an image I can’t erase from my memory.

I phoned my mother. She was in the Czech Republic. I felt ready to die. I was convinced that the next bomb could kill us. I told her, “If the connection is lost, don’t worry, I’m fine.” However, I didn’t believe myself.

The next day I packed my suitcase and decided to go to my mother. All I had with me was some winter clothes, food, and one pair of shoes: my light sneakers. We travelled for three days. Old people, women, pets—all on the same train, all with different stories but the common misfortune of war.

I cried so much, leaving my family there under the rockets. I wondered, “Am I doing the right thing? Why is this happening to me now?” So many questions and not a single answer. I thought I would feel a little better when I got to the Czech Republic, when I got off the damned train. But it got worse, because there were many more questions—what to do next, where to go, where to live and work?

Not knowing what to do, I walked all over Europe in my one pair of sneakers. As I walked, I thought about how to get to a new place and looked for organizations that could help me find a new beginning. 

My travels in my sneakers introduced me to many kind people with warm hearts, including those who gave me shelter here in Canada and who became my second family. In these shoes, I have travelled half of Ontario, including Niagara Falls. Thanks to these people and the Government of Canada, I’m now standing here in these very sneakers and telling my story in The Shoe Project.

I’m proud of myself. My lightweight sneakers and I have come such a long way. Although I can now buy myself better, prettier, and more reliable shoes, I will never take off the burden of these sneakers.

I pray every day that the war will stop not only in my country but throughout the world. I pray for the health and happiness of those people who are suffering from the war. I don’t want anyone to experience what it’s like to wear my sneakers. They have lost their brightness and are very worn out, but they have made me older, stronger and wiser.

Karyna Nikashyna is originally from Ukraine. She now lives in Windsor, Ontario. She is looking forward to sharing her stories with others.

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